That’s why I am calling for the Biden administration to classify fentanyl as a Weapon of Mass Destruction. I also joined a 23-state coalition in a letter urging U.S. Senate leadership to pass the HALT Fentanyl Act, which would permanently schedule all current and future fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs.This will give law enforcement the appropriate tools they need to crack down on the epidemic by stopping the flow of the dangerous drugs developed to imitate fentanyl (although not chemically identical). The House of Representatives already passed this bill with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.
Now there are two more emerging deadly substances being added to fentanyl that makes it even more deadly: Nitazenes and xylazine.
Nitazenes aren’t well known because they are a relatively new. Although they were developed in the 1950s, they were only detected by law enforcement starting in 2019, but they have quickly grown in notoriety.
Why is this? The United States had 107,622 drug deaths in 2021, a 15% increase of 13,967 from 93,655 in 2020. Almost the entirety of the increase is due to fentanyl. West Virginia had 1,194 fentanyl and other synthetic opioid deaths in 2021, up 10% from 1,083 in 2020.
Nitazenes are 10 to 20 times more powerful than fentanyl, which is already 50 times more powerful than heroin.
If 90% of opioid deaths come from fentanyl, imagine what damage nitazenes could do.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a report of nitazenes’ increasing involvement in deadly overdoses in Tennessee. There have been similar reports of increasing numbers of death involving the drug in the District of Columbia. We are learning that the substance has been found in Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Minnesota. Law enforcement says it has even been found here in West Virginia.
This new and lethal threat is what prompted me to write a letter to the administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration asking for more information on nitazenes, which are increasingly linked to deadly overdoses.
I also sought information that will help us keep these new illicit substances from gaining a foothold across West Virginia and the U.S.
Xylazine, which commonly known by its street name “Tranq” or “zombie drug,” is a powerful sedative that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for veterinary use (horse tranquilizer), according to the DEA. Xylazine is only making our opioid epidemic worse, making it harder for overdose victims to be revived.
Fentanyl and xylazine drug mixtures place users at a higher risk of suffering a deadly drug poisoning—since xylazine is for animal use, the drug is not an opioid so naloxone or Narcan will not reverse its effects. The DEA said administering naloxone if someone might be suffering a drug overdose is still recommended.
And have you seen the photos of “Tranq” users suffering from flesh-rotting sores? Experts say those sores may also lead to amputation.
In its recently issued public safety alert, DEA officials said “107,735 Americans died between August 2021 and August 2022 from drug poisonings, with 66 percent of those deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel in Mexico, using chemicals largely sourced from China, are primarily responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in communities across the United States.”
Exactly just as I have been saying all along.
We need to better understand the situation before it becomes the next wave of deadly substances coming into the country. The answers to such questions are critical at a time when synthetic opioids are already killing unprecedented numbers of Americans.
To that effect, I recently joined a bipartisan coalition of 39 attorneys general in urging the U.S. Senate and House to pass S. 993 and H.R. 1839—the Combating Illicit Xylazine Act. The legislation seeks to curb the proliferation of xylazine by scheduling it as a controlled substance.
We can’t allow nitazenes and xylazine to proliferate. We need early, actionable information to swiftly counter this threat. When such threats arise, we depend on the DEA to act quickly and forcefully.
This is why my office will work hand-in-hand with our partners to stop these poisons in their tracks before it’s too late.
Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.